So, here’s a thing about me:
I don’t really have my own story to tell. I’ve traveled, played in bands, befriended hundreds, rich and poor, and animals and very old trees; I have obtained equal enjoyment from taco trucks and Michelin starred restaurant food, I have loved good company and alone-ness in great metropoles and deep wildernesses, alike. When I look for the story in my experiences, I see loosely connected moments bound together only by the coincidence that I am part of each. Just me, sort of perched in the middle of a tacked-together-with-baling-wire-and-gum set of scenes, dreamily staring at the stars and not particularly thinking about much of anything.
It chafes a little, being a born storyteller without a story. The stories I create that other people love most, my little tiny victories, are overwhelmingly one-off posts that are fated to disappear quickly into the noise of social media. Their lifespans are twitter-short. I want to tell a bigger story, but find myself foundering in choppy, muddled waters of Too Many Ideas, None of Which Are All That Great, seeking a line to follow, some sort of structure onto which I can anchor myself.
That Certain Thing I find elusive doesn’t actually hurt me as a creator of art and content. In fact, this is one of my greatest strengths. I’m not the inventor foundering at sea; I’m the fisherman who throws her a rope. I’m not the tortured writer madly clicking out a novel; I’m the calm voice of reason who appears when it’s time to clean house and make hard decisions. It turns out, you can be no good at telling your own story, but really good at telling someone else’s story.
Of all the things I do for my clients, transforming someone’s raw vision into something professional and beautiful is right up there at the top of my list. It took becoming an Art Director for me to truly understand the concept of UX versus UI. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, UI means user interface. UX means user experience. The difference is essentially little picture vs. big picture. The little picture – the UI – is you navigating this website. Did I design it well? Are you able to find what you’re looking for? Was it functional, and did you find it easy to understand all information, enjoyable and stress-free to use? The big picture involves specifically how you feel when you’re interacting with my brand, as a client. The entire experience: how I communicate with you, the monetary value of my services, how working with me makes you feel, how positive you feel about recommending me, and my overall branding strategy (of which UI of this site is one aspect).
I have always intrinsically understood what makes a good layout. But understanding how to give users a great overall experience in every aspect of interaction with a brand is something that took a lot of time to develop. It actually took throwing me into that Art Director position for which I was probably initially not qualified (aka the “sink or swim” method) to provide that series of AH HA! moments, and suddenly I found myself at this place where I don’t really have to struggle with new projects, because I know what to do already. UX development involves a lot of listening, interpreting, and translating. My clients tell me what they want, and it’s my responsibility to hear the things they say and the things they might not say, ask the right questions, to get to the essential core their vision. Then I need to interpret what they’ve told me into clear business goals, and finally, to translate those goals into something that’s technically and generally reasonable, well-designed, functional, and enjoyable. When you click into that sweet spot, everyone feels it. The work stops feeling overwhelming, mysterious, and frustrating for the client, and becomes something they enjoy being involved in.
Right now I’m working on two of my most difficult, most enjoyable projects to-date, and they both happen to be design-heavy projects that involve careful attention to creating great UX. For two different clients, I am developing online courses and user portals. The amount of information they need to convey is substantial, so obviously the puzzle I’m putting together is a lot more intense. I need to please the clients – who know their programs inside and out, thus have no objectivity when it comes to displaying a massive amount of information – and, at the same time, give the end users of these online education systems an experience that is useful and enjoyable. Aside from the information architecture, itself, I also have to make sure my clients understand why we do this in a specific way and why some of their requests are not only technically infeasible, but also not a good end user experience, and how to maintain this informational hierarchy and design aesthetic for things they may need to add in the future.
Yeah, I know. Snoresville, you may be saying. But you know what? One of the funniest things about design is that you rarely notice the design of your day-to-day interactions with brands unless it’s bad. So next time you find yourself enjoying something, from the experience of walking into a Coffee Bean and having your favorite coffee drink, to using your favorite app, remember, someone designed that entire experience to please you. And when you find yourself trying to navigate the Department of Motor Vehicles website, remember: someone designed that just for you, too.
And that person must really not like you.
P.S. You may want to color something today, may I suggest this?